Le Temps Des Fleurs: Remembering Dalida

Yolanda Christina Gigliotti was born into an Italian family in Cairo on 17th January 1933. As the first violinist at the Cairo Opera House, her father Pietro Gigliotti instilled her and her two brothers with a appreciation for music from an early age. After attending an Italian Catholic school in the Egyptian capital, and Yolanda dreamt of becoming a model, an ambition that would be easily realised on account of her breathtaking Mediterranean beauty.

Winning the title of Miss Ondine at a beauty pageant in 1950, Yolanda was again triumphant when she competed for the crown of Miss Egypt four years later. Her new found status brought her to the attention of the French painter and film director, Marc de Gastyne, who promised to help her pursue a film career and she moved to Paris in December 1954. Changing her name to the more French sounding Dalila, she later decided upon its variant Dalida. In Homage to the continent of her birth, it was of African-Swahili and Arabic origin, from the former, her new moniker translated as ‘gentle,’ and from the latter, ‘to tease.’

Isolated and far away from her family and friends, Dalida found solace in music and took singing lessons. Not only did she have natural talent, she also had a powerful stage presence and was hired to perform her own cabaret act at a the Olympia, a music hall in the 9th arrondissement with her signature tune being Étrangèr au Paradis, a hit from the 1953 musical Kismet. Dalida also appeared in several films including the Egyptian motion picture Sigarah wa kas (1955) and Marc de Gastyne’s Le masque de Toutankhamon (1955), but it was whilst working at the Olympia, that she met Lucien Morisse, a produce at Europe n° 1, the biggest radio station in France at that time, and the record producer Eddie Barclay. Instantly captivated by her, Morisse proposed despite already being married. Morisse later divorced and they would eventually wed on 8th April 1961, although the marriage dissolved in matter of weeks following Dalida’s affair with the French actor Jean Sobieski.  Continue reading

Pure: Meena Kumari’s Sorrow

One of the biggest Bollywood stars of all time, Mahjabeen Bano was born into a poor family in the Indian city of Bombay (now Mumbai) on 1st August 1932. Her father, Ali Bakhsh, a Muslim who worked as an actor and musician, and her Hindu mother Iqbal Begum, a dancer, were already struggling to provide for their older daughters Khursheed and Madhu, and in desperation left the infant at outside an orphanage. They returned to collect her only hours later.

Ali Bakhsh pushed his youngest child to follow in his footsteps and go into acting, rather than pursuing her education.  At the age of 7, she landed her first minor role in the 1939 swashbuckler Farzande Watan. Other successes followed, including Pooja (1940) and Bahen (1941). For the latter, the studio changed her name to ‘Baby Meena.’ Regular film appearances throughout the 1940s meant that Meena was able to financially support her entire family.

In 1952, by then using the full name Meena Kumari, she was cast as the lead actress in the renowned producer and director Vijay Bhatt’s Baiju Bawra. It was a massive hit with movie-goers across the country and propelled Meena into nationwide superstardom.  Loosely based on a legend from the Mughal Empire, Bashu, a musician, seeks revenge upon the man who killed his father, but almost forgets his vow when he becomes enchanted by the beguiling Gauri, played by Meena. So powerful was her performance as the heartbroken Gauri who sacrifices herself so that Bashu might realise his ambitions, Meena received the moniker the ‘Tragedy Queen’ from her rapidly growing legion of fans, and won the first ever Filmfare Best Actress Award in 1954. On the other hand, her memorable portrayal of the anguished Gauri meant that Meena began to be typecast, largely being offered the parts of unfortunate and often victimised women in films like Do Bigha Zamin (1953) and Bandish (1955).

Above: Meena Kumari in Baiju Bawra (1952) Continue reading

Sunsets: The Strings Of Manolis Hiotis

Born on 21st March 1921 (some sources claim 1920) in Thessaloniki, a port on the Thermaikos Gulf of the Aegean Sea and Greece’s second largest city, the speed at which he mastered the guitar and violin left his parents in no doubt that Manolis Hiotis was a musical prodigy. Wealthy restaurateurs, they encouraged their son’s exceptional talent, and paid for him to leave home at the age of 14, to study music in Athens. In 1936, Hiotis met the folk singer Stratos Pagioumtzis, one of the country’s biggest stars thanks to his fashionable Rembetiko style and remarkable voice. Pagioumtzis hired the teenager to play the bouzouki, an instrument that had been popularized by the influx of immigrants from Turkey during the late nineteenth century. It was the main instrument in Rembetiko, and Hiotis discovered that he was a true virtuoso.

A year later, Hiotis recorded his first song, το χρήμα δεν το λογαριάζω (The Money Does Not Count) and it proved to be a hit. Influenced by Rembetiko, which was often considered a somewhat lowbrow form of entertainment, Hiotis pioneered his own, more refined version of the original genre, which came to be known as Archontorebetiko.

Above: Manolis Hiotis – το χρήμα δεν το λογαριάζω (The Money Does Not Count) (1938)

A string of successes ensued for Hiotis, as a soloist and when working with fellow artists, such as the singer Apostolos Nikolaidis, and composers Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis. Continue reading

Starlight Rendezvous: Calling Dickie Valentine

Though overlooked today, during the 1950s, so great was Dickie Valentine’s popularity that a 1957 meeting of his fan club was so oversubscribed that the Royal Albert Hall was chosen as the venue. Such devotion could he inspire from his admirers, one 1956 report highlighted the case of Suzanne Crowley – a young girl who referred to herself as a ‘raving mad Dickie Valentine fan,’ and was so obsessed with her idol, that she carried a record player around with her so she could listen to his music at all times, and also wore one of his records as a hat.

Born Richard Maxwell in Marylebone on 4th November 1929, his first film role came at the tender age of 3, in the comedy Jack’s the Boy, starring Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge. Finding steady work as a child actor, he developed a routine in which he impersonated many popular singers of the day such as Mario Lanza and Frankie Laine – something he would continue to do for the rest of his career. Possessing an impressive voice of his own however, he was a regular on the London nightclub circuit, and on 14th February 1949, signed as a vocalist for Ted Heath’s band, Ted Heath and His Music; in honour of the date his big break arrived, he adopted the stage name Dickie Valentine. Continue reading